Vision Improvement through Bionic Implants
Robotic vision vs. ocular bionic vision
While the two terms are often used interchangeably or confused, vision in robots and bionic vision in humans couldn’t be more different. While robotic vision is the concept that allows robotic machines to ‘see’, bionic vision in humans refers to ocular vision enhanced by technology for a good reason (typically due to optical deficiencies).
Robotic vision uses cameras and algorithms to process visual data from the environment, upon which to base its decision-making. Robots can’t see, per see, so this is how they make sense of what is happening around them, so they can respond appropriately.
Why does human vision need upgrades?
Not to be confused with augmented or virtual reality, bionic vision does not involve any external wearables, though it typically requires the implantation of a technologically enhanced lens into the human eye.
Most eye enhancement technologies today focus on solving shortcomings in ocular vision rather than providing healthy people terminator-like precision vision by fully replacing the human eye. One insurmountable issue with the latter scenario would be the inability to reconnect the optical nerve once it has been severed.
Types of bionic ocular enhancements
Like Cochlear ear implants, some ocular implants work by taking and processing camera images, then transferring them to electrodes placed in the back of the eye retina. They are usually used in adults who suffer from retinal degenerative diseases.
Another type of implants are mini-telescopes capable of magnifying objects for the affected eye, while the other eye contributes to establishing peripheral vision. These implants are suitable for adults who suffer from damage to their central vision (i.e. degeneration or scarring of the macula).
Bionic vision commercial options
Perhaps the most commercially viable system for retinal prosthesis today is the Argus II, which was designed to treat adult patients suffering from severe retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that leaves the affected eyes at a complete loss of vision. The Argus II doesn’t cure the condition fully, though it replaces the damaged eye cells that are responsible for sensing light. The implant consists of an artificial retina prosthesis (made of electrodes), a small video camera, a video processing unit, and a transmitter integrated into eyeglasses.
Then, there’s the bionic lens developed by Ocumetrics Technology, which claims it can correct optical imperfections in the ocular lens by using wavefront technology, resulting in better vision (3 times 20/20 by some estimates). The technology is still undergoing clinical trials and rumored to be commercially available within a few years. Unlike the Argus II, this bionic lens would be an option for anyone over the age of 25, who currently wears corrective lenses. The implantation procedure is said to be like laser eye surgery – non-invasive and pain-free.
Eligibility for retinal implants
Currently, artificial retina eligibility is based on the presence of severe retinal deterioration in patients. Being implanted with an artificial retina would allow them to receive an image projection consisting of light and dark spots. While it doesn’t solve the condition completely, the implanted retina system can be a significant morale improvement to patients who have completely lost the concept of light. The system has been approved for usage by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is available at medical facilities throughout the U.S. and Canada at an approximate cost of $150,000.
Outlook of ocular implants
According to some projections, bionic lens implantation is going to be as common as getting laser eye surgery in the next decades. Whether this will take place depends to a large degree on the tech advances in implants, their availability, and cost.
As it stands, a single bionic eye surgery can amount to tens of thousands of dollars, which certainly doesn’t make it very accessible to the wide public. Still, to some, the potential of bionic vision justifies the high cost and isn’t a deterrent.
The current alternatives for ocular prosthesis are feasible only in severe cases of disfunction, however, as the technology evolves, and cost goes down similar solutions can be applied to patients with less profound ocular conditions. Time will tell whether eye implants will become commonplace; until then, most of us will stick to lenses, spectacles, or lasik.